Something very bad happened to Amy (absorbing first-time actor Amy Everson), the protagonist of Felt.
We're never told exactly what it was, but we can guess. "Every time I close my eyes, I just relive the trauma," she murmurs in a voiceover that opens the movie. Her friends have to coax her out of her house, which is filled with her artwork — sculptures of penises and vaginas, broken dolls, and toothbrushes shaped like nude torsos. When she does go out, she swaps water for alcohol — in shot glasses, or mixed with cranberry juice — like a spell of protection.
Felt, which is directed by Jason Banker (Toad Road) and is inspired by star and co-writer Everson's work and experiences, has played genre festivals and is being billed as a "feminist psychological thriller." But for the majority of its runtime, it's more of a movie about living with trauma than one that seems to be escalating toward horror. It's a choice that is ultimately more provocatively feminist than the dialogue, which can tend toward the clunkily didactic — when Amy tells someone that "just the struggle of being female is that you’re constantly objectified and discredited," it's more treatise than conversation.
Slasher films love their Final Girls, but rarely bother with what happens to them in the aftermath of their terrible experiences. The fact that Amy has survived her assault isn't in question — what's at stake is what her life is going to be like in the afterwards, when, as she puts it at the start of the film, she's never safe. Amy channels her distress into her distinctive artwork, making herself masks out of fabric, and muscles, and a nude suit with a penis, like some sweded version of shapeshifting.
Amy's work and her affect are so quirky that few people — not the largely awful guys she goes on dates with, not the friends who get frustrated with her — see the distress and anger underneath. She's obsessed with genitals and bodily functions, as if to confront any sexualization and defuse it by redirecting the conversation toward a more childlike approach to her body. She shows up at a racy photo shoot in panties with a felt vagina and pubic hair attached, announcing that "sexiness is overrated." Her follow-up, that "being human is overrated," goes uncommented on in the ensuing chaos. In dream-like interludes, she wanders by herself in spooky homemade masks and costumes, as if trying to force some physical change in herself.
Felt wears its feminism like branding, particularly toward the end, when Amy starts to open up to and trust a seemingly nice guy named Kenny (Kentucker Audley), and the movie finally starts to move toward an inevitably dark conclusion. But it feels fresh in its point of view, despite the heavier handed moments. It focuses on what it's like to have taken abuse and to continue, in smaller ways, to take it — to have people discount your pain or tell you to smile or, as one of Amy's suitors does, claim that roofies are a myth that women cite when they're embarrassed about the sex they had. It's a reminder that while genre movies usually look toward violence, there's just as rich territory to be explored in what happens after it, in the marks it leaves that go beyond the physical.